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Editorial: School boards need to get serious about settlement

September 25, 2018 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

More than one in 10 Alberta teachers have been working without a collective agreement since September 2016.

To put that into perspective, consider it this way: they are still trying to reach local agreements that, if they existed, would have already expired — because two-year terms were set by a central table agreement reached in 2016.

Local bargaining is not a game or a race, but if this was crib, these groups would be getting skunked. If this was Formula One racing, these teachers might soon get lapped.

Sadly, most of the gains that they could make cannot be applied retroactively. The trend for what improvements are likely in this round of bargaining has been well established by the 47 bargaining units that have already settled. The agreements typically make improvements related to teacher personal days, family medical days, administrator lieu days and working conditions for substitute teachers.

You would need a time machine to go back and access the family medical leave days that you might be able to negotiate.

These issues may seem small, but teachers are still prepared to take action in support of bargaining. That is because, in a number of these jurisdictions, the problem is not the lack of personal days; the problem is a lack of respect.

It seems that some of these boards are going out of their way to tick off their teachers.

More than one board has included a proposal to remove principals from the collective agreement. The proposal is clearly illegal and can only be interpreted as an effort to inflame teachers.

On its own, a lack of personal days is unlikely to push teachers to strike, but a lack of respect just might.

Another board unilaterally changed the structure of its employee health benefits at a time when issues related to benefits were up for discussion at the bargaining table.

Elsewhere, boards are disrespecting the improvements made in the central agreement or even attempting to renegotiate items that are clearly central table matters.

Then there are the francophone boards that insist on negotiating en anglais.

The board members are first-language francophone; the teachers are mostly first-language francophone; the schools operate in French and the collective agreement is written in French. But the board wants to negotiate in English. Qu’est-ce qui se passe?

I’ll tell you what’s going on. The contractor they hired to bargain on their behalf does not speak French.

Twelve of the 14 boards that remain unsettled have hired the same negotiator.

Coincidentally, (or maybe not), several boards have banded together to table the same initial proposal at each of their tables — including some proposals that don’t even apply to existing situations in some of the school boards. These proposals often include regressive measures aimed at reducing long-standing entitlements.

Now, if the boards want to hire a consultant whose advice serves no purpose in reaching an agreement and only serves to irritate teachers, they are well within their rights. But they should keep in mind that at the end of the day, the consultant gets to leave town and move on with his life. Meanwhile the trustees and district office personnel have to live with the broken relationship with teachers that was created in the process.

I’ve been involved in bitter labour negotiations and have been on the verge of walking out. From my experience, the conflict occurs not because of the issues on the table, but rather because of how the people are made to feel.

On its own, a lack of personal days is unlikely to push teachers to strike, but a lack of respect just might.

I have some free advice for school boards. The end is near. The trend is well-established. Take reasonable efforts to conclude an agreement and move on, because making your employees feel respected and valued is much more important than saving the relatively small costs associated with providing some lieu time for your principals or ensuring that teachers can access time off to take care of a sick child.

Just get the deal done, because healthy, happy and respected teachers are more productive and better able to serve the interests of students.  ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at

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